The Vets Strike Back
This section is primarily comments by Veterans about the Burns/Novick/PBS Series. Perhaps, if there had been any living veterans when Burns made his Civil War docu-tainment, there would be more awareness of the flaws of Burns' views of history. There are still many living veterans of the Vietnam War, both American and South Vietnamese and they find a lot to challenge in the Burns/Novick/PBS presentation of the Vietnam War, not the least of which involved the fact that very few of the Veterans represented on screen were representative of the attitudes of their fellow veterans. The Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) represented a minuscule fraction of those who served, yet were the predominant spokesmen in the video. The contempt in which they were held is evidenced by the strong Vietnam Veteran response against the 2004 Presidential candidacy of John Kerry who had been a leader in VVAW.
Fred Reed (This is an old one, but a good place to start.)
- I begin to weary of the stories about veterans that are now in vogue with the newspapers, the stories that dissect the veteran’s psyche as if prying apart a laboratory frog — patronizing stories written by style-section reporters who know all there is to know about chocolate mousse, ladies’ fashions, and the wonderful desserts that can be made with simple jello. I weary of seeing veterans analyzed and diagnosed and explained by people who share nothing with veterans, by people who, one feels intuitively, would regard it as a harrowing experience to be alone in a backyard. Week after week the mousse authorities tell us what is wrong with the veteran. The veteran is badly in need of adjustment, they say — lacks balance, needs fine tuning to whatever it is in society that one should be attuned to. What we have here, all agree, with omniscience and veiled condescension, is a victim: The press loves a victim.
- We who wore a military uniform in those years were often ignored or despised while opposition to the war took root and became the measure of virtue in the public, the media and academia, even though the anti-war arguments were largely founded in falsehood, fed to each other in the echo chamber they created.
- And yet every Vietnam vet I know is proud of their service, fiercely patriotic and doesn’t want even a shred of sympathy.
- They do want one thing. They want the truth told about them, their enemy, their war.
- Now, after 40-something years, Ms. Novick and Mr. Burns, along comes the misrepresentation you call a documentary, very pretty but with only fleeting intersections with the truth and reviving conflict long ago buried.
Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association
- Burns epic pictures all of us Vietnam veterans as atrocity committing victims of the incompetent or evil politicians in Washington, DC, who then were against the war by the time we came home. Simply not true. Almost all Marines I know joined to serve their country and were proud of the opportunity to do so. We served honorably and even courageously in a difficult war against a formidable enemy. We committed many acts of great violence, but did not commit atrocities or war crimes. When our tour was over, we came home and went on with our lives. The much different image of us projected by “The Vietnam War” is the one created by those of our generation who wrote and controlled the social history of that troubled era of our history. They were able to do so because they had access to the media while we were off in the jungles of Vietnam, and they were anxious to control that narrative because they felt the need to justify their refusal to serve their country by declaring the war and its leaders as immoral. Their need for self-justification has created a false picture of us veterans that is demeaning and unfair.
- My feeling is that the two filmmakers decided to tilt the series toward those viewers under 50, writing off as lost causes—either pro or con—America’s involvement in the war by those like me who are a generation older.
- Thus, the North Vietnamese veterans were uniformly portrayed as valiant freedom fighters who won, American veterans depicted as having turned against their own war, and U.S. anti-war movement members, draft-dodgers, and those who left our country also being “right.”
- Those of us who fought it as a war worth waging were “wrong.”
- It is my belief that the Burns/Novick team was acutely aware that the documentary would cause a stir among honorably serving men. Who among that group would agree that there is moral equivalence between them and their NVA/VC enemies, or them and the antiwar crowd? And who in their right mind would agree that it took more courage to oppose the war and bug out for Canada than it did to fulfill one’s obligation to one’s country? And where else is there a production that presents John Kerry as reasonable rather than traitorous? To again borrow from the failed presidential candidate: What difference does it make? Plenty.
- Mr. Nixon’s prosecution of the war in Southeast Asia is poorly told by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick in their new Public Broadcasting Service documentary “The Vietnam War.” That is but one of many reasons Mr. Burns‘ latest work is such a disappointment and a tragic lost opportunity.
Heroes of the Vietnam Generation by Jim Webb (2004)
- Those of us who grew up, on the other side of the picket line from that era's counter-culture can't help but feel a little leery of this sudden gush of appreciation for our elders from the leading lights of the old counter-culture. Then and now, the national conversation has proceeded from the dubious assumption that those who came of age during Vietnam are a unified generation in the same sense as their parents were, and thus are capable of being spoken for through these fickle elites.
- I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads: “I don’t know what happened. When I left, we were winning!” A Better War demonstrates that such a sentiment is not as farfetched as the conventional wisdom would have it.
- . . .those on the anti-war side of the Vietnam age group will feel vindicated by the series. It will give some of them tacit permission to continue to take their bearings, either directly or indirectly, from the hard-core opinion of those who believe that the Vietnam war represented all that is evil about America–capitalistic exploitation, racism, and imperialism. Noam Chomsky and H. Bruce Franklin exemplify this view. As the latter writes in “The Vietnam War and the Culture Wars,” Vietnam, far from being “an aberration, some kind of wayward ‘mistake’ by a nation long leading the world’s march to progress,” instead “typified the nation’s history from colonial settler regime to global empire.” Indeed, for Franklin, the Vietnam war was the culmination of the 600-year-old European crusade to oppress people of color throughout the globe–thus the mass murderer Lt. William Calley (My Lai) was only the latest manifestation of the spirit of that earlier mass murderer, Christopher Columbus.
- So what are we left with? When it comes to assessing the lessons of Vietnam, Burns and Novick again come up short. At the end of the program, one of the interviewees, a lieutenant who fought in Vietnam in 1965, serves up what is presumably the documentary’s final judgment: “We have learned a lesson . . . that we just can’t impose our will on others.” This is false. It the very business of war to impose one’s will upon the enemy. History has shown time and again that this is, in fact, entirely possible. Indeed, if the purpose of war is, ultimately, to achieve a better, more just peace, then the imposition of one’s will against the enemy is not just possible, but morally appropriate. There is no other reason to resort to war at all.
- Pace Burns and Novick—and that lieutenant—what we should have learned from Vietnam are lessons that apply to all wars. It is necessary to have some clarity concerning the goals of the war, since they are fought for political objectives. Strategy must link those goals to available resources and be constantly adapted to shifting circumstances. Any strategy must take account of the enemy, for, as the adage goes, any plan that depends on an enemy’s cooperation is bound to fail. Finally, defeat in war creates serious consequences for the defeated and its allies.
- We can learn from history. We can learn from previous wars. But we need to ensure that we are learning the right things. As that lieutenant’s comment illustrates, too many of the alleged “lessons” of Vietnam are not.
- The point is not that the Vietnam revisionists’ argument is unassailable. It is, rather, that a major public television documentary series that never even acknowledges the existence of more than one interpretation of the war is either lazy or dishonest, doing a disservice to the program’s subject and viewers, as well as to the troops who fought in that conflict.
MG Patrick Brady (MOH)
- To draw a moral equivalence between Ho and Diem, Communism and nationalism, is bad enough. But to draw a moral equivalence between the war cowards at home and those who risked their lives for them in Vietnam, as the filmmakers do here, is beyond shameful.
- Let me give you Vietnam in a nutshell. It matches in unselfishness anything we ever did. There was really nothing in it for us in a materiel sense. We were simply trying to help a helpless people be free from the horrible evil of Communism. And the Vietnam veteran fought with a valor and humanitarianism never before seen in any war in our history.
Lewis Sorley interviewed on the Federalist Radio Hour
- Sure Burns puts some truth in his documentary but rather than praise him may we never forget that the most venal of propaganda cannot succeed without kernels of truth spread conveniently among the lies. 2,700,000+ Americans served in country in the military during the Vietnam War. Burns interviewed only a couple hundred during his ten years of research and only one hundred were even filmed with fifty nine making his final cut(That selection process should be studied by every so-called scholar). All the heroism and brotherhood we saw daily does not make the cut in Burns' depiction of our war. That we do not call 'history' but simply a carefully shaped propaganda piece.
- I served in Vietnam as an NCO and as an officer during every year of direct United States Army participation in the war and the bent of what Burns' depicted, on the whole, was not the war I fought.
- Burns and Novik had the unmitigated gall to hold up as spokesman of all Vietnam vets those who came home and protested the war. To further insult us, they held up a draft evader who fled to Canada. This was shown as a righteous alternative to serving your country.
- Mr. Jennings notes that it was never the American goal to defeat the North Vietnamese, and this, he writes, “was perhaps our folly.” He explains that America fought a limited war with limited goals and when American troops withdrew in 1973, those goals were achieved — an independent South Vietnam and the containment of Communist aggression.
- “Vietnam veterans are not given credit for basically winning the Cold War,” Mr. Jennings said to me. “I understand it was President Reagan, but if we had not held our own in Southeast Asia, I think it might have been a different situation with China and Russia. For 10 years Vietnam veterans beat the Communists and kept them in their holes, and the Soviets spent billions to support them.”
- The recent acclaimed Burns-Novick documentary on Vietnam is great cinematic art but poor history. Unfortunately, with the nano-second emotion/attention mentality of our population, it will be generally judged as THE history. For those that were part of the Vietnam “experience,” it lanced old boils while ignoring the root cause of the disease. The series systematically ignores crucial points of fact while emphasizing the emotional points-veterans as victims, the North as righteous warriors and the peace movement as a penultimate demonstration of taking moral high ground.
- Various veterans and historians have provided critical reviews of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick series "The Vietnam War," and there is a score of points they take issue with, but I will address perhaps the simplest one: Glossing over the conscious and rigorously practiced policy of atrocities by the communist forces, while spotlighting those few committed by United States forces.
R.J. Del Vecchio (Vietnamese translation)
- Một số cựu chiến binh và sử gia khác nhau đã từng đưa ra những phê bình về những tập phim tài liệu “Chiến Tranh Việt Nam” của Ken Burns và Lynn Novick, và họ đã chất vấn cả hàng mấy chục điểm, nhưng tôi chỉ muốn đề cập đến một điểm có lẽ là đơn giản nhất: đó là việc [Ken Burns] chỉ lướt sơ qua chính sách độc ác, có chủ ý, được quân đội cộng sản thực thi một cách gắt gao, nhưng lại chiếu rọi ánh sáng vào thiểu số sự kiện tàn ác do quân đội Mỹ gây nên.
- My takeaway to Burn's documentary is that there is some historical knowledge there, and one should realize the biases and take them with a large dose of salt. For us who lived the 60's and 70's and to those who served their country in combat, this eighteen-hour marathon was little more than a continuation of the same old left-wing media bias that existed back then. It glorified the North Vietnamese who forced their own people to flee to South Vietnam, then proceeded to kill millions of them. It gave the American military no credit for essentially defeating the North during the Tet Offensive in 1968, and glorified the cowards who fled to Canada to avoid the draft under the excuse it was "an unjust war."
- But Burn's extensively done production will likely remain the 'bible' of the war forever in history.
- I hope not.